Grasping at Straws

Meaning

What does Grasping at Straws mean?

Grasping at straws is a popular idiomatic expression, used to refer to a desperate attempt at saving oneself, before the Last Straw will “break the camel’s back”.

It is used especially in the same context with hasty actions based on unfounded ideas and speculation, usually resulting in catastrophe.

Origin

What's the origin of Grasping at Straws?

The expression most likely refers to a situation where one ends up in deep water by accident, attempting to grab onto anything that they can use to pull themselves out.

Although the exact origin of the phrase “Grasping at straws” is not known, one of its earliest documentations appearing in print can be found in the book of John Prime, published in 1583, under the title “A Fruitefull and Briefe Discourse in Two Bookes”, although it was probably around in the spoken language for much longer.

Prints of the expression would rarely occur in the subsequent centuries, until 1800’s, when its popularity began to rise.

Spread & Usage

How did Grasping at Straws spread?

“Grasping at straws” started seeing widespread use both in literary and everyday contexts during the 19th century, appearing in a plethora of sources from newspapers to publications and novels.

Its popularity continued to shoot up in the 1900’s as well, not stopping until the arrival of the internet, which further facilitated the spread of the colloquialism.

“Grasping at straws” was first defined on Urban Dictionary in 2005, with several other entries following in the subsequent years.

 

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